This Friday, WandaVision will kick off Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Early reactions have teased another hit for Marvel Studios which should bode well for the expansive slate Marvel has planned for Disney+.
We knew Marvel was planning to release both films in theaters and series on Disney+, but until the recent Disney Investor Day we did not know to what extent Marvel would be devoting to the streaming service. However, with a number of series announced and teased, one thing has become clear: the future of the MCU is on Disney+.
Familiar Faces Finally Pushed to the Forefront
Over the span of 23 films, the MCU has introduced hundreds of characters. Unfortunately, most of those characters ended up being underdeveloped, or pushed aside, to allow for the main character (i.e., the titular superhero) to shine. However, that did not stop these characters from building their own fanbases. Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, the Winter Soldier, Falcon, War Machine, Nick Fury, Vision, and Loki were all characters that never received their own solo film during the first three phases of the MCU. That is about to change thanks to Disney+.
Each mentioned character is set to star in their own Disney+ series. These are characters fans have been following for over a decade. We have seen glimpses into their personal lives (Hawkeye has a family, the Winter Soldier was once a brainwashed assassin, etc.), but, until now, they have never been able to blossom into their own fully-developed characters. Their solo series will give fans a chance to see what the Winter Soldier does when he is not fighting HYDRA, and what Hawkeye gets up to when he’s not hanging with the Avengers. We will be able to truly see these characters grow into three-dimensional human-beings. After watching them fire off quips and team-up with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America, it will be nice to find out who these superheroes can be when they are not playing second fiddle to the big guns.
Part of the reason these upcoming Disney+ shows are exciting for longtime fans of the MCU is that we are going to be seeing these supporting characters over a greater quantity of time. Miraculously, Avengers: Infinity War managed to juggle multiple characters and storylines while continuing to develop and move forward certain characters’ arcs. However, other characters got little to no screen time and were there purely as fan service. It is hard to give every character a full story arc in a 2-hour runtime which is why a series will give these characters more time to grow.
WandaVision‘s first season is confirmed to run for nine episodes. That is potentially anywhere from 4.5 to 9 hours (depending on the runtime for each episode) of Scarlet Witch and Vision. Some quick internet research reveals that Scarlet Witch and Vision have both roughly had only thirty minutes of screen time each throughout their previous MCU appearances. Likewise, Hawkeye has also had minimal screen time (around 32 minutes, not including Endgame). His six-episode series will significantly boost that number.
The television series will be able to greatly develop these characters in ways the films never had the time to do. Fans may not have gone to the theaters to see a Hawkeye or Scarlet Witch film, but they will definitely tune in weekly to see them on Disney+ (especially if they are already subscribers).
Next Generation Being Teased
In addition to Hawkeye, Loki, and Scarlet Witch receiving shows, Marvel is also teasing the next generation of superheroes. Shows featuring the characters Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Ironheart are all in development. These are characters with connections to the greater MCU, and they are all set to play a huge role in the future of the universe. Ms. Marvel has been confirmed to be a part of the Captain Marvel sequel, and Mark Ruffalo will be reprising his role as Bruce Banner for She-Hulk. Hawkeye will also introduce Kate Bishop, the second Hawkeye. It is clear Marvel is using the Disney+ shows to introduce the concept of legacy superheroes, mantles that can be passed from one generation to the next. Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Bishop’s Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, and Ironheart have what it takes to become future Avengers. By having their own solo series, it will allow fans a chance to quickly become attached to these characters and theorize how they might interact and crossover in future series and films.
Second Chance for Villains
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will feature the return of both Helmut Zemo (Captain America: Civil War) and Georges Batroc (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) while the Abomination (The Incredible Hulk) will appear in She-Hulk. While the return of Zemo and Batroc in TF&TWS is a welcome sight, the Abomination’s return is a bigger deal. We have not seen or heard from this character (aside from an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reference) since 2008. It shows that any character, no matter how big or small, is still eligible for a second chance. Most of the films kill off their villains, so to see the ones that managed to survive get another chance to antagonize our heroes, well, it will only deepen the bond we have with them. Plus, these villains already have a history with our heroes meaning that their return will hold greater stakes than the introduction of a new villain.
Next Big Crossover is Secret Invasion
Marvel Studios has remained tight-lipped on when we might see the next instalment in the Avengers series. However, they have announced their next big crossover event. Secret Invasion will adapt the popular Marvel Comics storyline that saw the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race, having secretly infiltrated all aspects of life on Earth. Nick Fury and Talos (Captain Marvel) will headline the series. No other cast members were announced, but the story will no doubt impact the greater MCU leading to a higher chance that other characters from the rest of the Disney+ series will make an appearance. This looks like it will be a stand-in for the usual Avengers crossover event, and could act as the Phase 4 finale.
Marvel Studios’ commitment to releasing theatrical features is not going anywhere. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will still rely on big-budget blockbuster films as they make the most money and can reach a wider audience. However, it is clear that Marvel recognizes Disney+ as a platform where they can tell longer, and more intimate stories involving their characters. Even if Marvel sticks to telling stories featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man to film there is still plenty of material left for streaming. As Disney+ grows, so will Marvel’s commitment to providing them with content. The chance for longer runtimes, more character development and a greater connected and cohesive universe will benefit the MCU in the long run when introducing new superheroes. That is why I think it is safe to say that the future of the MCU will be on Disney+.